Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it will likely breed forgetfulness.
If you have been around for 20,000 sunrises, it takes an extraordinary sunrise to capture your attention. If you have seven children, the arrival of the last child and his acquisition of language and mobility probably won’t produce wonder in you. After 62 Christmas celebrations, you are more likely to sleep late on the anticipated morning than wake up two hours early. The more we experience something, the more we are inclined to take it for granted and miss its significance and importance.
It is not sinful to become occasionally forgetful, though perhaps we miss some blessings of seeing the start of a new day or a child’s growing abilities or the wonder of excitement and anticipation for holidays.
But it is a sin to forget some things. For instance, we dare not forget Christ and His work on the cross. That’s why Scripture commands us to regularly remember His death and resurrection through communion. That’s the central aspect of the ordinance of communion — to engender remembrance of Christ. And while the Bible doesn’t mandate the frequency of taking communion as a church body, the frequency should be such that we don’t forget Him.
Twice when He gave the ordinance to the disciples, Jesus said it was for the purpose of remembrance:
“…and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’” (1 Cor. 11:24)
“In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” (1 Cor. 11:25)
Eating the bread and drinking the cup are acts of remembering; they are not agents of grace but reminders of grace.
As we come to the communion table (as we will again this Sunday), what are some things that we might remember? What are the benefits of coming to this table so frequently? What should receive our reflective attention as we prepare to eat and drink? Here are a few answers for you to contemplate:
Communion makes us remember Christ. As we remember Christ receiving the beating and attempting to carry the cross and being nailed to the cross and speaking from the cross and crying out in anguish as God’s wrath is poured out against Him, we remember the magnitude of God’s wrath that required such a perfect and infinite sacrifice to atone for our sin. Further, we remember the perfection of Christ that met infinite wrath satisfactorily, absorbing that wrath fully. Then we remember the love of Christ that went obediently to the cross, without complaint or objection. And we remember His righteousness the fulfilled the Law and is fully imputed (accounted) to those who believe in Him.
It is essential to remember our Savior and His perfection and wrath’s infinite rage because we are prone to forget. We are prone to assume and presume upon and fail to be grateful for and find joy in Christ’s work. Communion is a stimulant to rightly attributing to the entire Godhead its rightful place in our redemption.
Communion makes us remember our sin. Because we are commanded to examine ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28) and not come to the table in an unworthy manner (v. 27), we are compelled to contemplate our sinful tendencies and our particular sinful activities. And that contemplation leads to confession, which is to our spiritual good. In that self-examination we are also reminded of the persistence of some sins in our lives, which leads us to cry out for more grace from the Spirit to resist and mortify those sins. Such remembrances also help us to remember the horrible consequence of sin — it always and only produces death — and thereby should make us shrink back in horror from carrying out those sinful yearnings. Since the least of our sins led to the death of Christ, how can we blatantly engage in that (or any) sin?
Communion makes us remember our place in the Body of Christ. Contemplating Christ’s death and our sin with a congregation of believers on a Sunday morning reminds us that Christ did not die for one single individual only, but that He died for one unified body comprised of many individuals (of whom I am one). I am but one of many recipients of God’s great grace and I join the voices of many who sing God’s praise for Christ’s work. Remembering our place in this one body also reminds us of the uniform applicability of Christ’s blood. The blood that atones for my sin is sufficient to atone for my brother’s sin, and my brother is no more (or less) dependent on that blood than I am. We are all infinitely dependent on Christ’s blood. This awareness produces a joy that we are one body and stimulates joy of serving one another in that body.
Communion makes us remember the future. The act of communion necessarily looks backward to the cross. But it also looks forward to Glory. It is as much forward-anticipating as it is backward-rejoicing. As we look forward to the completion of our salvation, we are reminded of the purpose of our salvation. We are reminded of that for which we were redeemed — our ultimate and complete sanctification. Looking forward to the time when we will take this ordinance with Jesus in Heaven (Lk. 22:16), keeps our eyes on the prize of holiness and Christ and keeps us from being distracted by the fraudulent cheap trinkets of desires and temptations that move us away from Christ.
Communion makes us remember our testimony to the world. In communion we affirm again the essence of the gospel message — it took a literal body of the infinite God to literally die as a sacrifice for sin. Then, as we affirm that gospel message, we also testify to our belief and confidence in and reliance on that message for our lives and in so doing proclaim to the world the necessity of His death and resurrection for life (1 Cor. 11:26). Taking communion reminds us that we are not only recipients of grace but that we are proclaimers of grace. Communion reminds us that we are all inherently evangelists.
Communion makes us remember our position before God. Because God has commanded this remembrance leads us to recognize our submission to Him whenever we come to this table. The ordinance is a reminder that He is the Lord and Master and we are but slaves to Him (who are then also adopted as sons). That recognition then leads us to rejoice and find our satisfaction in Him as supreme and stimulates humble gratitude in us — we are dependent on Him and He has given us all that we need.
The next time you come to the communion table, don’t let its familiarity cloud your remembrance. As you come to the table, be purposeful to remember the greatness of God and the wonder of the privilege of being redeemed by Christ and the wonder of being unified with Him so that you have something to remember about your relationship with Him.